You might benefit from this post if you:
- Are regularly experiencing low energy
- Are curious about why people choose to go vegan
- Have considered adopting a plant-based diet but haven’t tried it yet
I Went Vegan, and the World is Heading There Too
About two and a half years ago, I decided to adopt a vegan diet (i.e. plant-based; no animal products). Since then, the vegan options, both in terms of restaurants (in Los Angeles and all over the world) and creative new meat/egg/dairy alternatives, have grown exponentially. According to a recent study on the plant-based food sector, growth overall in plant-based foods was 8.1 percent since last year, totaling $3.1 billion in sales. The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. In fact, there is a great Forbes article called “Here’s Why You Should Turn Your Business Vegan in 2018” which I recommend you check out, but if you are short on time, here’s a couple of highlights from the article:
- Plant-based dairy alternatives are expected to represent 40% of the combined total of dairy and dairy alternative beverages within three years, up from just 25% in 2016
- Vegan cheese has taken off in a big way, with the global market estimated to be worth just under $4 billion by 2024
- While plant-based milk sales grew 3.1%, cow’s milk sales declined 5% and are projected to drop another 11% through 2020, according to Mintel (dairy companies are losing money like crazy)
- Shares in Cal-Maine Foods, an egg producer since 1969 in Jackson, Mississippi in the US, saw its shares drop 7% in July this year after the company reported its first annual loss in more than 10 years.
While the market statistics are compelling, you can also see the change all around you. It makes me so happy every time I walk into a vegan restaurant to find it packed filled with people of all sorts, and even mainstream restaurants are starting to offer more and more vegan options (I’m a fan of the Impossible Burger at Fat Burger). New vegan companies are popping up all over the world to offer innovating new products (I am unreasonably excited about the launch of JUST Vegan Egg) and the meat industry is getting nervous, proven by their major investments in plant-based companies (see the Forbes article for several examples).
Why I Made the Change
This is really exciting news for me now, but three years ago I wouldn’t have noticed it. Before I made the change, I regularly ate meat. I ordered a side of bacon with my brunch, I splurged on a rack of lamb at fine restaurants and learned how to get a perfect sear on a medium-rare filet mignon for special meals at home. But then one afternoon in late 2015 I got really sick after eating carnitas at a barbecue. It wasn’t that there was something wrong with the pork because no one else at the party got sick. Apparently, my body just decided it didn’t want pork in my system. I didn’t jump to that conclusion immediately though; it was proven after a couple more attempts at eating carnitas tacos. I also started noticing that my energy levels were really low. I wanted to get in better shape and had dabbled in a low-carb, high protein diet, but I still couldn’t find the energy to get myself to the gym. I knew there had to be something I could change to fix what was going on with me, but I couldn’t figure out what.
Around the same time, I came across the documentary Fork Over Knives on Netflix. After watching it, I was floored.
“Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.” – forksoverknives.com
The scientific studies and interviews with people who had seen their cancer disappear or who were able to discontinue their diabetes medication were shocking. Throughout the film, people who had switched to a whole-foods, plant-based diet repeatedly talked about how their energy had skyrocketed after making the change. I was intrigued and wanted more information so I watched a couple more documentaries, including Food Inc., Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and, the straw that broke the camel’s back, Vegucated. In Vegucated, a documentary that follows three meat-loving New Yorkers who agree to try out a vegan diet for six weeks, the filmmakers exposed some of the harder to watch animal cruelty aspects of the meat, poultry and dairy industries. I won’t recount them here but things I saw hit me pretty hard and if you’re on the fence about a vegan lifestyle, I highly recommend that you watch this film.
Animal Lover…For Real
Like so many others, I understood that the living conditions of factory farm animals were unpleasant and those creatures were essentially born and raised to be our food. For my whole life, it had been so easy to just accept that fact without actually thinking about what it really meant. What it meant for the animals who suffered and what it meant for someone like me, a person who claimed to be an animal lover, to blindly look the other way and avoid asking questions about how the carne asada taco meat came to be on my plate. When I realized that I was effectively eating the carcasses of dead animals who had been raised in torturous conditions, I felt awful. How could I say that I loved animals when every single day I handed my cash over to an industry that abuses and slaughters millions of animals every day?
So I made the decision to transition to a vegan diet.
Making the switch was a little tough. I had been eating animal products my entire life, and as a result, I’d come to enjoy the textures and flavors. So when I decided to cut animal products out of my diet, what did I do? I started like many people do: I swapped out the meat for meat substitutes. While I had learned about the importance of eating a diet primarily filled with whole (i.e. unprocessed) foods, I couldn’t help but miss burgers, fried chicken, and meatballs and so I turned to the vegan versions of those products. Did they taste exactly the same? No, not exactly. But were they really tasty and did they make me feel good, both physically and consciously? Absolutely. However, over the last few years, I have definitely begun to understand the importance of limiting processed foods in favor of whole foods but everyone has to start somewhere.
Like all major dietary changes, the first 1-2 weeks were a bit challenging but I was committed to the change, and I’m so glad that I stuck with it! My energy levels skyrocketed, my skin got clearer and, most shockingly, I was actually motivated to start working out. From what I’ve learned, the energy boost comes because our bodies stop needing to expend tremendous amounts of energy to digest animal products, and so we get to reclaim that energy for other activities.
I started having a lot of fun getting creative with my weekly menu planning and was discovering that Los Angeles, like many other urban areas, had some truly amazing vegan restaurants that were even more creative with their menu planning. See below for some great cookbooks that helped me get started.
Voting With My Dollars
While I was riding the high of my new vegan diet, I wanted everyone to feel as good as I was feeling and so I started sharing my experience with friends and family. I soon became frustrated with their lack of enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle. I got irritated at the hypocrisy of people who would lose their minds because some people in China were eating dogs and then those same people turned around and ordered a bone-in ribeye for dinner. How were dogs and cows different? Humans domesticated both, albeit for different purposes. All animals have mothers and all animals have feelings. If you don’t believe me, watch this compilation of cows who think they are dogs and tell me that you don’t want to play and jump with them.
I am not an activist nor am I a very politically expressive person (for better or worse) so I didn’t know how to handle my frustration. How could I get everyone to understand how much harm we were causing? Aside from hurting the animals, we were hurting ourselves in terms of the increase in heart disease, diabetes, and cancer since our meat consumption (see this summary of The China Study on wellandgood.com). And then I remembered Gandhi’s famous quote:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I realized that the only thing to do that point was put my money where my mouth was. Literally. I figured that if I chose to stop giving my hard earned dollars to industries that harmed animals, I would essentially be uninvesting their future success. My money would instead go to companies and restaurants that provided delicious plant-based food and drinks. I was, and still am, betting that the trend of meat companies buying up vegan brands is just the beginning of a massive positive shift in our world’s eating habits.
I also decided to start sharing pictures of all the amazing vegan food I was eating so that my friends and family could see that vegan food doesn’t have to be rabbit food. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? See below for a few of them.
I Am Not Perfect
A lot of people ask me if it’s hard being a vegan. The answer is no, not when you live in LA where vegan options are everywhere which means that for people like me who don’t cook much at home these days, I can easily order or buy delicious meals from 50 or so vegan restaurants (or restaurants with vegan options) within a few miles of my apartment. If you live in a non-metropolitan area, even in some areas of LA, it may be harder to find vegan meals that have already been prepared. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t easily be vegan when cooking from home. There are so many amazing vegan cookbooks out there including:
- But I Could Never Go Vegan!: 125 Recipes That Prove You Can Live Without Cheese, It’s Not All Rabbit Food, and Your Friends Will Still Come Over for Dinner by Kristy Turner
- Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck, Thug Kitchen 101: Fast as F*ck, and Thug Kitchen Party Grub: For Social Motherf*ckers, all by Thug Kitchen
- Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen and Vegan Richa’s Everyday Kitchen by Richa Hingle (also see her blog)
- The Make Ahead Vegan: 125 Freezer-Friendly Recipes by Ginny Kay McMeans (for those of us who don’t want to have to cook every day)
- Crossroads Cookbook by Tal Ronnen and Scot Jones (if you want to get fancy)
- Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon (also see her blog and her highly rated app)
With that said, I will admit that I am not vegan 100% of the time. There are occasions when I will have some dairy (either in cheese or dessert form), either because I miss it or because I’m out with friends and there are no vegan options, only vegetarian options. I would say I do this about two to three times a month. But while I used to feel horrible when I “slipped up,” I realized that I am not perfect, and I am okay with begin 97% vegan. For now.
However, I do think it will be easier for me to be 100% vegan in the very near future. Products like the Impossible Burger, the best taco in LA in 2018 by LA Taco (not “best vegan taco,” best taco period) and vegan cheese shops like Vromage are quickly creating plant-based alternatives that will make everyone, not just me, forget all about the animal-based products that we grew up with. I’m so excited to see what the future holds and hope that you will also consider trying a vegan diet if you aren’t vegan already.
Wait – What About the Protein?!
I usually laugh when people ask about this. It’s amazing to me how the meat, poultry, and dairy industries have convinced us over the last several decades that we need milk for strong bones and meat for muscle building. The studies that were used to back up those claims were funded by industries who would benefit from people buying their products (see Food Inc. for examples). However, there are now studies showing that higher milk consumption is associated with higher rates of osteoporosis, and in some cases, higher death rates. And let’s not forget about the fact that some of the largest mammals on earth like elephants, rhinos and gorillas only eat plants proving that great size is not based on a meat-centric diet. Protein exists in plants too, and every day more and more people are proving that the “protein has to come from meat” theory is wrong. Check out these plant-based bodybuilders and professional athletes for proof:
- Venus Williams, Tennis superstar
- Scott Jurek, Ultramarathoner
- Nimai Delgado
- Dominick Thompson
- 12 more professional athletes in this Business Insider article which includes info on why they switched their diets
- 13 more bodybuilders from this Men’s Health article
- Several NFL players are making the switch too…
- …including some of the Tennessee Titans team, thanks to vegan Chef Charity Morgan
A Next Step
If you’re curious about learning more or if you are ready to give the vegan lifestyle a try, I think the most important thing is to first figure out your “why.” I have found that with so many things in life if you’re motivations aren’t clear it becomes really difficult to stick to your promises. My “whys” were clear when I started:
- I want to live a really long time (seriously, a study found that every 3% increase in calories from plant protein was found to reduce risk of death by 10%)
- I want to stop contributing to animal cruelty (I’ve also switched almost all of my household and beauty products to cruelty-free brands)
- I want to reduce my impact on the environment (I recommend watching Cowspiracy to learn more about this)
- I want to vote with my dollars to help be a part of the great changes that are happening in our world
- I want more energy and to generally feel good with the choices I was making for myself
If any of these reasons resonate with you, I encourage you to learn more and then try a vegan diet for at least 3 weeks to see how it makes you feel (this guideline on how to make the transition will help). I also think it’s important to join or build a community of other vegans around you. Or at a minimum, surround yourself with family and friends who will support your exploration. Because sharing a meal is one of our most social activities, having this community support is important.
If you’re still not ready to take the plunge then I highly recommend making the simple change of reducing your meat consumption. I have friends who haven’t gone full vegan but switched to a mostly vegetarian diet with meat only 1-3 times a week, and they saw the energy boost too. Remember, none of us are perfect. But we can try new things.